‘Stand strong’ is message of gun control advocates

The Colorado Statesman

Gun control advocates are asking Coloradans to “stand strong” in the midst of warning shots fired by gun rights groups that have created a seemingly endless election cycle in Colorado by seeking to recall lawmakers who support new gun laws.

At a rally Monday at the Capitol led by Colorado Ceasefire, gun control lobbyists and victims of gun violence lambasted the latest attempt to recall a state lawmaker for supporting tough gun control.

Sen. Evie Hudak, a Westminster Democrat, continues to feel the wrath of gun rights groups who hope to force her into a recall election after she supported universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Hudak is defending herself after two of her former colleagues, Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, both Democrats, were recalled from office this summer after also supporting the laws.

Sisters Tonya Buchler, left, and Krista Buchler, of Westminster, stand at the Capitol on Monday and ask Coloradans to “stand strong” in the face of a backlash by gun rights groups seeking to overturn new gun laws and recall lawmakers who supported the laws.

“After the recall of two state senators for their support of common sense gun laws, the relentless attacks on Colorado’s lawmakers continue to disrupt the democratic process,” read a statement from Stand Strong Colorado. “The extremists who oppose these laws and who oppose the courageous legislators who fought for them are now threatening to undo the progress that has made Colorado safer.”

The Recall Hudak Too headquarters in Arvada is covered in signs asking voters to recall Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, after she backed new gun control laws.

The coalition — including Colorado Ceasefire, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Hunters Against Gun Violence — is asking Coloradans to share their personal stories with gun violence. They have launched a website: StandStrongCO.com

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which has paid a petition gathering firm to collect signatures to recall Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, has parked its “political pain delivery vehicle” outside the recall headquarters in Arvada.

“The goal is to put a face on those whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence and show the very personal impact this issue has on families and communities,” read the mission statement.

Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire, leads a rally at the Capitol on Monday asking Coloradans to “stand strong”­­­ in supporting lawmakers who back tough gun control laws.
Photos by Peter Marcus/The Colorado Statesman

One by one members of the coalition lined up on the west steps of the Capitol to share their tragic stories. There were no tears from the speakers. Instead, their faces were stiff and their words were cold.

They explained that while the torturous pain of losing loved ones remains, the next chapter has taken hold, which is working to educate citizens on why gun laws make society safer.

“Legislators were told that if you vote for this you’re going to be elected out because this very vocal minority is going to come after you,” explained Dave Hoover, whose nephew, A.J. Boik, was killed in the Aurora theater massacre last year. “Shame on them. Shame on them for trying to scare our legislators into doing something they don’t believe in. What they believe in is safe streets here in Colorado.”

Hoover said his nephew, who was only 18 when he was gunned down, was just learning to be a man. He had a beautiful girlfriend, said Hoover.

“Because of easy access to a weapon, an animal gunned my nephew and 11 others down in that theater,” Hoover said of suspect James Holmes, who allegedly used a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, a pump-action 12-guage shotgun and a Glock .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol in the shooting spree.

Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and trying to kill dozens more inside the Century Aurora 16 movie theater in July 2012. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. A judge on Thursday ordered a delay in the planned February trial. No new date was set.

Tom Sullivan, who lost his 27-year-old son, Alex Sullivan, to the Aurora massacre, said he has been having a difficult time hearing his son’s voice in his head recently. Professionals tell him that it’s not unusual to first lose the voice of the person who recently died.

“I’ve started to listen for Alex’s voice in the words of others, and I can hear his words coming loud and true,” said Sullivan. “I heard his voice last year right here in our state Capitol when Colorado legislators passed three common sense gun laws.

“I can hear his voice on the street corners of Arvada and Westminster as courageous people stand strong in their fight against another recall effort here in Colorado,” Sullivan continued. “I can hear him take a stand against these extremist groups who have already recalled two state senators who stood for Colorado safety, and they’ll work to do the same to Evie Hudak, one of our brave legislators who have fought these extremists and passed common sense laws that I as a Coloradan am so proud of.”

Jane Dougherty, whose sister Mary Sherlach was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut last year, said she felt compelled to join the debate after experiencing the horror of gun violence.

“I realized that sharing Mary’s story shed a much needed light on the issue of gun violence,” said Dougherty. “It puts a face on it.”

Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire, said it is critical for gun control advocates to band together in the face of a gun lobby that appears to be relentless in its attack on any new gun laws.

“The gun lobby never rests,” declared McCarron. “They’re incensed at these laws, and they’re working to overturn them by lawsuits, recalls, voter initiatives and legislation.”

Fifty-five Colorado sheriffs have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn Colorado’s new law banning high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than 15 rounds. Much of the case rests on a Second Amendment argument, but the sheriffs also argue that the law is unenforceable due to unclear language.

Citizens may also attempt to overturn the law through a voter initiative. Petitions are due on Dec. 9.

Several Republican lawmakers have also expressed a desire to repeal the gun laws through legislation in the upcoming legislative session that begins in January. But those bills would be mostly symbolic and stand little chance in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

Even if Hudak is recalled and the Senate flips to Republican control, the House would likely kill the bills. The repeal measures likely wouldn’t even get out of committee.

“They have to engage in disingenuous language because not one law-abiding citizen will lose his or her firearms due to these laws — not one…” added McCarron.

Jennifer Hope, regional chairwoman of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said many mothers no longer feel safe bringing their children to the mall or movies, or even sending their kids to school.

“There are millions of moms across the country and thousands right here in Colorado who are mad too…” said Hope. “We just want to know that our communities where we’re raising our kids are safe. That’s all any parent wants.”

Hudak said she is honored to stand with so many in the community who support her effort to reduce gun violence through legislation.

“I stand strong with families of victims of violence,” she said in a statement emailed to The Colorado Statesman. “I, along with the majority of Colorado, believe that individuals with violent history should not carry a weapon. I admire these families for giving a voice to victims of violence.”

Recall movement marches on

But armies of recall proponents are set on reversing the gun control direction taken by the legislature this year. They shocked the state this summer when they successfully recalled Morse and Giron — a first in Colorado history.

It was shocking enough that they were able to recall the Senate president. But then they stunned the political world when they also ousted Giron, who resides in a Democratic-leaning district. Proponents felt they sent a clear message that gun rights crosses political boundaries.

Building on the momentum, they quickly set their target on Hudak, who is already vulnerable in a Senate district that includes 31 percent Democratic voters, 32 percent Republicans and 36 percent unaffiliated voters.

The proponents say they are relying on volunteers. But Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a powerful gun lobby and political machine, is paying controversial Kennedy Enterprises to gather signatures through a paid effort.

The Statesman reported in October that Recall Hudak Too, the committee established to recall Hudak, was only paying two employees at the time and that RMGO had pledged support.

A spokesman for the group said at the time that it was not paying Kennedy Enterprises. Since then, RMGO has begun paying the company for petition gathering on behalf of Recall Hudak Too. The firm was also used to collect signatures to force an election to oust Morse.

Kennedy Enterprises is controversial for hiring petition gatherers with criminal backgrounds to canvass neighborhoods looking for signatures. The issue has once again come up in the Hudak recall. A paid circulator with a criminal background allegedly threatened a counter-canvasser with Democracy Defense Fund, a group dedicated to fighting such recall efforts.

As a result, DDF has issued a robocall alerting voters to the issue.

“If you sign the petition, your name will be in the public record and given to people who may or may not have a criminal record,” states the robocall. “This is an important community alert. You have a right to sign the petition, but you also have a right to know that the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners have hired a paid signature gathering firm that does not require criminal background checks on petition gatherers…”

“Our community deserves to know that Rocky Mountain Gun Owners is bringing criminals into our neighborhoods to collect signatures for this recall,” explained Cheryl Cheney, a volunteer with DDF. “If RMGO isn’t applying a high standard for hiring people to collect personal information from our citizens, then someone has to hold them accountable.”

Some, however, have raised concerns with the robocall, pointing out that voters may view it as an official public service announcement from local law enforcement. Similar concerns were raised when Democrats placed a robocall in Colorado Springs during Morse’s recall election.

DDF also revealed an audio recording on Thursday of a paid petition gatherer encouraging a voter to sign the petition who did not reside in the district. The group says it intends to conduct its own validity check if proponents submit signatures to the secretary of state’s office.

“This could include resources that the secretary of state and Department of Personnel and Administration may not have at their disposal such as handwriting analysis,” said Cheney. “Extra scrutiny to petitions circulated by individuals who have a criminal history of fraud.”

Joe Neville, a lobbyist and spokesman for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the Hudak recall drive, said recall opponents are grasping at straws.

“There’s nothing radical about defending our Second Amendment rights,” said Neville. “It’s a natural right for every single person, and honest law-abiding citizens, to be able to protect themselves and their family.”

Proponents have until Dec. 3 to collect 18,900 valid signatures. They would like to collect more than 25,000 signatures to play it safe. Neville said recall supporters are on track to meet that goal.

“Every day is a crunch; we’re taking it one day at a time,” he said. “We’re feeling very good about where we’re at.”

Neville responded directly to the rally on Monday, saying an armed citizenry is a safer citizenry. Neville believes that had the movie theater and schools not been in gun-free zones, then things would have gone differently.

“The fact is that all those instances were in gun-free zones and a gun-free zone is nothing more than a target rich zone for criminals to do evil acts,” opined Neville. “If you want to really provide a safe environment for people, and it’s statistically proven, then you would get rid of all these criminal safe zones.

“We’re not going to combat their rallies,” he added. “We’re going to keep focusing on the message of protecting people’s Second Amendment rights, their constitutional rights.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com